ROSEMONT, Ill. – After yet another impressive submission victory, undefeated middleweight Rafael Lovato Jr. believes it’s time for him to fight for the title.
“Even though I’ve only had eight fights now, this is a lifetime of work,” Lovato said after his latest victory. “I’ve been competing my whole life, and I’m kind of getting used to being the underdog and going against these guys that have a lot more fights than me. Now’s my time. I’m coming into my prime physically, mentally, technically, and I’m not here to mess around.
“I want to go all the way. Whoever is the champ, that’s my target. That’s who I’m going for.”
Lovato Jr. (8-0 MMA, 4-0 BMMA) was stellar on Saturday, submitting longtime veteran Gerald Harris (25-6 MMA, 0-1 BMMA) in just 71 seconds at Bellator 198, which took place at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill.
Harris actually stepped in on just a few days’ notice when Lovato Jr.’s original opponent, John Salter (15-3 MMA, 5-0 BMMA), was forced to withdraw. Lovato Jr. was thankful to Harris for taking the challenge and appreciative that Bellator was able to find a replacement that didn’t force an entire change to his approach.
“I woke up Tuesday morning with a text on my phone right there saying, ‘You don’t have an opponent at this point,’ so that will shake you up a little bit,” Lovato Jr. said. “Fortunately, everything got put together so fast, so I immediately could refocus, and Gerald also being a wrestler, being a southpaw, really helped a lot. If I would have fought a conventional fighter after training two months for a southpaw, it definitely would have kind of threw off my preparation. But everything worked out well.”
In Lovato’s four Bellator wins, three have come in the opening round. He’s embracing the standup game as he evolves, as well, realizing that his incredible grappling game allows him to be more free on the feet.
“I can pretty much throw whatever I want and not have to be scared of a takedown,” Lovato Jr. said. “You saw my last fight – I did a lot of front kicks and jumping knees and things like that because I’m not worried about getting taken down, and if they engage with me on the ground, I’m very confident that I can make something happen there, so that’s just all the years of jiu-jitsu paying off.”
And now Lovato Jr. wants a shot at the belt.
Current Bellator middleweight champ Rafael Carvalho (15-1 MMA, 6-0 BMMA) puts his title on the line against Gegard Mousasi (43-6-2 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) at next month’s Bellator 200 event in London. Lovato Jr. believes he should be next in line for the winner, or at worst have a rescheduled fight with Salter to determine who’s up next.
“I just want to do whatever it takes to get me to the title, to be fighting for the belt,” Lovato Jr. said. “If that could be the next fight, that would be great. That’s what I was under the impression of with the fight with Salter – that was a No. 1 contender (fight). At this point, I don’t think anything else really makes sense other than fighting for the title or trying to redo the Salter fight. He’s 5-0 in Bellator, I’m now 4-0 in Bellator, so either the title or Salter, I think that’s all that makes sense, and that’s what I want.”
Lovato Jr. said he doesn’t have a preference of opponent when it comes to challenging for the belt. That said, he does believe Carvalho is on a rising trajectory and may have the edge over Mousasi.
“It could really go either way, but if I had to bet, I’d bet on Carvalho,” Lovato Jr. said.
But ultimately, Lovato Jr. said it doesn’t matter one way or the other. He just wants a chance to challenge for gold, regardless of who’s holding the belt after Bellator 200.
“My goal for 2018 was to be the Bellator middleweight world champion,” Lovato Jr. said. “That’s all I’m dreaming about. That’s what inspires me, motivates me, and I’m working very hard to achieve that.”
To hear more from Lovato Jr., check out the video above.
For more on Bellator 198, check out the MMA Events section of the site.